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Double Down Stud Makes a Comeback

30 March 2004

By John Grochowski

Walking through Empress Joliet a couple of weeks ago, I came across a small blast from the past -- a $1 Double Down Stud video poker machine.

I knew IGT had recently dressed up the game for its new gaming platform, but I hadn't seen it in this market since, well ... ever. Double Down Stud has always been a game with a small niche, and operators in the Chicago area up till now haven't used valuable gaming positions on it.

Double Down Stud is a bit of an odd duck among video poker games. It's a five-card stud poker game with no draws, so there are fewer decisions to make than in draw poker games. Strategy is far less complex. The payback percentage on the first version of the game was 97.8 percent with expert play. That's not going to impress a video poker player who is used to 99-percent-plus pay tables, even 100-percent-plus games in Las Vegas and a few other markets.

That payback percentage didn't even impress table games players in the early-to-mid-1990s. A 97.8 percent payback percentage is the same as saying a game has a 2.2 percent house edge, and when Double Down Stud started life as a table game, players weren't buying it. Why play it as a video poker game? Even though its theoretical payback percentage is lower than those on many other video poker games, that return is much more attainable on Double Down Stud for most players. We say that 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker (paying off 10-for-1 on full houses, 7-for-1 on flushes and 5-for-1 on straights) is a 100.17 percent game with expert play, but strategy is difficult and for most players the return is going to be closer to 95 to 97 percent. Double Down Stud strategy is easier, and most players will come closer to the theoretical return even though they won't hit as many royal flushes -- royals are much rarer in stud poker than in draw.

In Double Down Stud, after the player bets, four cards are dealt. Before receiving the fifth card the player has the option of doubling the bet. In the original version, payoffs were 1-for-1 on a pair of 6s through 10s; 2-for-1 on a pair of Jacks through Aces; 3-for-1 on two pair; 4-for-1 on three of a kind; 6-for-1 on a straight; 9-for-1 on a flush; 12-for-1 on a full house; 50-for-1 on four of a kind; 200-for-1 on a straight flush, and 1,000-for-1 on a royal flush, with the royal climbing to 2,000-for-1 on initial bets of 10 coins or more.

Strategy couldn't be simpler. Double your bet before the fifth card if you have a hand that already is a winner. Also double if you have four cards to a flush or four to an open-ended straight. That pay table still is offered by the manufacturer, but in dressing up the new release of Double Down Stud, IGT added some wrinkles. Now there are pay tables that start at a pair of 7s, 8s or any pair as well as a pair of 6s. There are Double Double Bonus, Deuces Wild, Deuces Wild Bonus and Joker Poker versions of Double Down Stud. And there are several pay tables for each, with theoretical returns ranging from 90.8 percent on the worst version of 8s or better on up to 100.2 percent on the best version of 6s or better.

Empress stayed pretty conservative in choosing the games for its foray into Double Down Stud -- no funky Double Double Bonus, Bonus, Deuces or Deuces Bonus games. You need no strategy twists to play these; stick with the strategy for the original games.

On the Empress pay tables, theoretical returns are 96.0 percent on 6s or better; 96.8 percent on 7s or better; 95.3 percent on 8s or better, and 97.0 percent on one pair or better. That doesn't make Double Down Stud the best game in the house, but it's an easy alternative for those wanting a break from more complex video poker games.

TIME TO SPLIT: From Leading Edge Design, inventors of the popular Multi Strike Poker game, comes word that its new Big Split Poker game has started to make its way into casinos. It hasn't reached the Chicago area yet, but those planning Las Vegas vacations can see it at New York-New York, MGM Grand, the Orleans and Terrible's, and it's also available at the Atlantis in Reno.

Big Split is another easy alternative to draw poker games. There are several pay tables, but in each, on the initial deal, the player receives eight cards, which the player then must arrange into a five-card hand and a three-card hand. The five-card hand determines a payback, and the three-card hand determines a multiplier. Multiply the five-card winnings by the three-card multiplier and you get an overall return for the hand.

In the variation just called "Big Split," the pay table for the five-card hand starts at two pair, with the higher pair being Jacks or better. The multiplier hand must be at least a high card. The game tells you whether you have a winner before you arrange the cards -- if no winner is possible, the game is over and you move to the next hand.

How you arrange them can make a difference. In some cases, you'll get more money by settling for a lesser top hand to take a bigger multiplier on the bottom.

Big Split Poker is available to play free online. Just go to www.bigsplitpoker.com to familiarize yourself with the game before you try it in a casino.

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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